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Three's A Crowd

Yesterday I helped a friend out, watching
her two children while she got some work done. I say I helped her
out, but it’s actually great for me as well – her two
girls are very close to Maddie and Cora’s ages, and everyone
plays together well. That morning I’d gotten an email from
another friend suggesting we hit the park for a play date, and I
told her I’d bring my foursome and we’d play with her

Even as I said this I had misgivings – having three
almost-five-year-olds doesn’t always work, and someone was
bound to feel left out at some point. So before everything went
down, I had a long reminder talk with Maddie about how we
don’t exclude friends, and that she needed to make sure
everyone who wanted to play with her was able to.

Unfortunately, this just doesn’t happen at that age.

I’ve read study after study saying
that children simply aren’t able to play with more than one
person at a time for long stretches until they’re six or
seven, and I certainly see that lived out in my circle. For
whatever reason, the kids simply can’t focus on more than one
person unless they’re all running together, like a pack of
dogs. I haven’t quite figured it out, but there’s a
continual tug of war going on between friends – even good
friends – when there’s three in the mix.

Fortunately for my guilt factor (the whole being a good hostess
thing) Maddie was the only one in the mix having a hard time. And
when I say a hard time, I mean ten minutes of nonstop crying and
begging someone else to do what SHE wanted to do instead of another
person’s idea of a good time. I had to spend nearly all my
time with her while the other girls scrambled contentedly over the
playground, just talking to her and calming her down and trying to
reason with her.

“But Ella got to swing next to Elise, and so did Cora, and I
didn’t get a turn! I don’t get to suh-suh-swing next to
Elise!” Maddie sobbed. “Well, hon, you can ask Elise if
she’d like to swing again with you,” I said, “but
you need to be ok with it if her answer is no. We don’t want
to make our friends feel bad if they don’t want to do what we
want them to do, and we can’t hold them hostage with our
feelings and crying.”

Of course Maddie asked, and of course the answer was a very polite
“no thank you”. Heartbroken, Maddie asked if it was a
possibility later in the play date, and got a confirmed swing time,
which went a little ways towards easing the sting. Maddie sat out a
good ten minutes longer, begging to go home, until a certain game
enticed her to join.

And I shouldn’t say that the threesome thing never works out,
because once Maddie let go of her feelings and her need to control
the playdate, all five kids played make-believe games together for
the rest of the time. Maddie and her two older friends, along with
the younger friend, all played “mermaids” and
“mommies and babies” and “acorn soup” very
contentedly for a long time. Cora, ever marching to her own
drummer, had been Handy Manny all morning, and never dropped her
persona. So Handy Manny rushed to rescue the mermaid’s roof
from caving in, or fixed a leaky pipe in the mommys’ house.
God bless that kid and her happiness with herself.

So things did work out ok, after all, but I know the threesome
thing isn’t solved. Maddie’s said quite plainly that
she’s left out of twosome games at school that “clearly
have room for a third person!”, and knows how sad that makes
her. I know she’s working on always being inclusive. And I
can’t stop putting her in those situations, much as I’d
like to protect her, because kindergarten’s coming up, and
baby, that’s one tough playground.


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